Long before personal computers became common fixtures in American homes, Matthew Broderick portrayed teenage hacker David Lightman in a 1983 movie entitled "WarGames." Lightman was a bright, directionless nerd who almost started World War III while hacking. It has been more than 30 years since the movie was released, and during that time, when most people thought of a hacker, the image they conjured was similar to Lightman: a young computer geek cloistered in his bedroom and hacking just for fun. However, today's hackers are a far cry from the character portrayed in the movie.
Today's Hackers Aren't Looking for Fun
As the internet evolved and computers became more powerful, hackers became increasingly aware of the profits that could be made from data breaches. The criminals polished their skills, upgraded their equipment, and began to take a sophisticated approach to hacking. In fact, for many hackers, it truly is a job; they are paid by governments, organized groups of criminals, terrorist organizations, or unscrupulous corporations seeking to sabotage the competition. Hacking is no longer a game — it is serious business. Hackers are not looking for a thrill — they are out to cause mayhem, but they expect to be well-rewarded for their efforts.
Every year, the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center releases a report on cybercrime. Although the report covers only those events that have been reported, the statistics for 2015 are frightening.
- Complaints: 288,012
- Reported losses: $1.071 billion
- Corporate data breaches: 2,499
- Ransomware attacks: 2,453
- DoS attacks: 1,020
- Phishing and related attacks: 16,594
- Malware and scareware: 3,294
- Terrorism: 361
- Hacktivists: 211
- Business email compromise: 7,837
When measured in terms of financial losses, the statistics are just as troubling.
- Corporate data breaches: $38.8 million
- Ransomware attacks: $1.6 million
- DoS attacks: $2.8 million
- Phishing and related attacks: $8.2 million
- Malware and scareware: $2.9 million
- Terrorism: $65,789
- Hacktivists: $171,600
- Business email compromise: $2.46 million
Keep in mind that this is only the tip of the iceberg. The statistics apply to complaints actually received, and since many attacks are never reported or are unknowingly happening now, it is impossible to know the full extent of cybercrime. Of the complaints filed, 80.2 percent were from residents of the United States, so the global numbers remain unknown.
Most breaches never make headlines. If the breach compromises customer credit card numbers or personal data, exposes patient medical histories, or steals information about bank accounts, the incident will normally be reported in the media as soon as the breach is found. However, many breaches are not uncovered for months or even years; a growing number of breaches are being discovered by the victims themselves or by a third-party organization. If the breach affects only the company — such as the theft of a proprietary formula or a pending bid — the victim organization may not report the incident to the press or file a complaint with the FBI.
Hackers have become increasingly creative, persistent, and skilled. They have become much better at creating spam and phishing campaigns that appear authentic, covering their tracks while conducting an initial foray into a target's system and refining malware attacks. As long as they can profit from their efforts, hackers will continue to plague legitimate businesses, innocent individuals, and government agencies. Fighting cybercrime requires a dual approach involving prevention and response.
- Replace, patch, or update vulnerable operating systems and applications.
- Restrict admin privileges to the fewest people possible.
- "Whitelist" applications.
- Be aggressive with the sanitization of untrusted user input.
- Maintain your firewalls.
- Prioritize cybersecurity.
- Have an effective response plan.
- Schedule drills to make sure that all employees understand their tasks.
- Automate everything possible, including playbooks and responses to false alarms, to eliminate duplicate incidents and data collection.
- Go beyond automation and embrace security orchestration.
- Facilitate collaboration, mentoring, and task delegation as part of your orchestration efforts.
No End to Hacks Expected
Regardless of the person or organization issuing the directives and selecting the targets, hackers are notoriously secretive. Digital currencies, encoded communications, and evolving technologies provide hackers with seemingly endless possibilities to wreak havoc on governments, businesses, and consumers. With the massive amounts of money that hackers can realize from every breach, it is highly unlikely that the criminals will voluntarily stop their attacks.
However, whether they are part of a criminal gang or a state-sponsored unit, hackers want to achieve the best return for their efforts. A system with top-of-the-line defenses will require more time and effort for hackers to penetrate, so they want the payoff — whether in terms of money, political advantage, prestige, or consumer unrest — to be worth their investment. On the other hand, a weak system might be breached just to see what can be gained. Therefore, regardless of the sensitivity of the data that you are protecting, you must remain vigilant at all times.
In order to establish effective prevention and response strategies, organizations should consider advanced tools such as those delivering integration across security products and enabling security orchestration.